What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it look like? What do you have to do? What do you have to believe? How do you have to live? What’s the bottom line?
What do you have to believe about Jesus? Must you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world? Or, is it enough to acknowledge that Jesus was one over-the-top, crazy-cool spiritual dude?
What about the virgin birth? The miracles? And those three days in hell before he was resurrected? What’s the bottom line?
What does it mean to be a Christian? Do you have to be baptized? Go to church? To follow the Prince of Peace, should you be a pacifist? Must you give money? How much? Sell all that you have and give it away to the poor? What’s the bottom line?
What does it look like to be a Christian? How obvious should it be? Should strangers be able to tell by looking at you? (There goes a Christian) O, by Meeting you or hearing you talk?
Theologian Karl Barth argued that every Christian is a theologian ... in other words: every Christian talks about God. Do people overhear you talking about God?
A lot of groups have ways of identifying each other. A lot of you choose to show your colors, as it were, as a Sox fan, or Pats fan. Some of you wear rainbows, others, pink ribbons, others American flags. Some of you wear your college colors. I’ve even seen Phil and Susan Stern in striped, black and orange Princeton jackets. And there are phrases we use when we recognize another member of our tribe: We might say so and so “is family.”Or, about someone else, “That’s a brother.”
What about being a Christian? Is it obvious? Should it be? Does it mean being unfailingly polite and courteous, or posting yourself in the state house preaching against poverty and war? What’s the bottom line?
These are no rhetorical questions. Being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, has meant different things to different people at different times, in different centuries and circumstances. It was different for Francis of Assisi than for C. S. Lewis; different for Thomas More than for Thomas Merton; different for Sojourner Truth than for Martin Luther King, Jr.
Here’s what I am asking. And, honestly, I don’t need to know the answer. But you do ... you need to know it, or want to know it, or become engaged in the process of discovering it. What does it mean to you to—and for you—to be a Christian today, in the year 2012? What does it look like in your life? What does it sound like?
Two thousand years ago an earnest Jew, a true inquirer asked Rabbi Jesus this question: Jesus, what’s the most important thing? What’s the first commandment? What matters above all else?
Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength ...” that was a direct quote from Moses. But then Jesus ad libs, he improvises … he improves upon Moses. Jesus adds: “and with all your mind.’”
Thomas More is said to have said: “Humans are to called to serve God wittily in the tangle of our minds.” (In A Man for All Season’s Thomas More declares this: ‘God made the angels to show God splendor. God made the animals for innocence and plants for simplicity. But God made human kind to serve God wittily, in the tangle of our minds.’)
We are a non-creedal church. We don’t have tests of faith. What do we have then? Just this ... just what Jesus said: “You shall love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength ...and with all your mind.’”
Here’s what it means to me ... and, by the way, what we communicated about it to those who are joining the church today:
Being a Christian is a way of life: It means living in the presence of God. Living in love and fellowship with all God’s children and all God’s earth. It means living as a dual citizen: one foot in heaven and the other on earth
Being a Christian is an attitude. Living with faith (in God, in God’s future, in life after death). Living with hope (despair is killing; hope is life giving). Living with love (a way of relating to others and to one’s self).
Being a Christian is giving ... of one’s time (in worship, study, prayer, learning). Of one’s talent (in service and volunteering). Of one’s treasure.
Being a Christian is giving ... not because we must. God help you if you give grudgingly, stingily, sullenly. Being a Christian is giving ... because you can hardly help yourself.
Being a Christian? Bottom line? Loving God. Loving God ... which then has an entire cascade effect on the rest of your life: on what you think and say. On how you behave. On what you believe. On what and in whom you place your trust. On your worship life and your prayer life. On your attitude.
Being a Christian? Bottom line? What Jesus said: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.’
Easy for Jesus to say.
I think that being a Christian looks a lot like an athlete training or a dieter dieting. You have your good days and your bad days ... some days you soar and other days your legs feel like lead.
Some days you are brave and disciplined, strong and sure. On those days, you can be brave and disciplined, strong and sure for the weak and broken among us.
Other days it will be you who are broken and weak and afraid. On those days—look around you—others of us will be brave and disciplined, strong and sure for you.
What does it mean to be a Christian? Jesus said it boils down to this, just this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.”
Easy for you to say, Jesus!
In truth: it’s way too much and way too hard to manage alone. That’s where the church comes in. That’s where the rest of us come in. Look around you ... Maybe, in our totality, as the sum of our different parts, we can do together what no one of us could ever, ever achieve alone? Amen.
So maybe, being a Christian: looks and feels a whole lot like this ... a whole lot like right now ... like being one among many, a member of a church. Amen?